If you have noticed that your child’s handwriting doesn’t stay in the lines, then this article is a must read for you. As an occupational therapist, I am frequently asked to evaluate children’s handwriting skills and one of the most common errors in handwriting that I see is poor baseline orientation, or “keeping the letters on the line”.
Why Does This Happen?
Handwriting is complex process that involves numerous skill sets (i.e. fine motor skills, posture, visual motor skills, visual perception, cognition, attention, behavior, etc…) and any one skill set that may be lagging can interfere with the child’s ability to keep his letters on the line.
As with any individualized question, you will have to consult with a professional to decipher exactly why your child may be having difficulty with keeping his letters on the line. Through my experience as an occupational therapist, I have found some common culprits for poor baseline orientation (when most other writing skill sets are intact).
Visual-Perceptual and Visual Motor Deficits
Visual perceptual and visual motor deficits are common culprits for causing children to have difficulty keeping letters on the line. The concepts are similar yet have distinct differences and all of which can interfere with writing issues like keeping letters on the line. Visual perception is an umbrella term that encompasses several specific skill sets (i.e. form consistency, form discrimination, visual memory, etc…) but overall, visual perception is one’s ability to process information about objects’ characteristics and how those objects are in spatial relation to one another and in spatial relation to their environment. In other words, visual perception helps one to”make sense” of what one is seeing.
Whereas visual motor skills integrates visual perception with the act of gross and fine motor movements to place the pencil where the eye thinks it needs to go. Visual perceptual and visual motor skills are essential for writing because each letter is made up of individual lines that need to be spaced properly with motor precision. For example, if these skills are lacking, you may try writing the letter “w” but it may end up looking like “\ / \ /” instead. In addition, visual perceptual and visual motor skills are essential for writing letters on the line.
5 Easy Ways to Improve Baseline Orientation (Keeping Those Letters On The Line)
- Use Wiki Stix (also called Bendaroos or flexible sticks) to follow lines, mazes, shapes, and letters. I love this activity for several reasons: it works on visual perceptual skills, motor planning, fine motor strengthening, and fine motor dexterity, plus kids love to play with them! The Wiki Stix stick better on plastic surfaces such as page protectors, laminated sheets of paper, and plastic overlays rather than plain paper (although plain paper will work too). Take a sheet of paper with any type of design (start with basic straight and curved lines for beginners) and place the sheet inside the plastic sheet protector and have the child press on the sticks to follow the path.
2. Use glue bottles to squeeze glue over lines such as racetracks, mazes, shapes,and letters- This activity also works on several writing skill sets at once (visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills, and fine motor strengthening). This activity is another fun way that will help improve your child’s ability to keep their letters on the line, and it doesn’t involve more writing.
3. Set up a hands and feet obstacle course – Have your child “walk” sideways using their hands and feet over top taped lines (chalk lines work great too outdoors). You will need one line for their hands to follow and one line for their feet to follow (keep the lines parallel with each other). This is excellent for visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills, hand strengthening & core strengthening, and it also provides heavy proprioceptive input (great for calming the sensory nervous system). Make a fun maze or path with the lines for your child to follow!
4. Copy Block Designs- Have your child copy a design you make with building blocks to develop their visual perceptual and visual motor skills. This is another fun activity that does not involve writing that will help develop skills needed to keep letters on the line.
5. For a quick fix, use compensation strategies – The list below can help improve baseline orientation but are more compensatory strategies rather than developing new skills; however, I have seen improvements using these strategies too….
- Use Wiki Stix overtop the baseline of writing paper to provide additional visual and tactile input to where letters should stop on the line (you will need to tape the edges down so the child’s hand doesn’t move the Stix when writing)
- Use glue overtop the lines to provide additional visual and tactile cues as to where the letters should stop on the line (wait until glue dries before writing)
- Highlight the baseline with a bright marker for additional visual cues for where the letters need to stop on the line
Remember that skills will take time to develop and the more practice the child gets in these areas, the better he will do. Simply telling the child to “keep your letters on the line” is not an effective, long term solution to this problem. Neither is just repetition of regular writing practice…. you’ll find that some of the most effective ways for improve baseline orientation are through these non-traditional “writing” techniques described above (plus they are a LOT more fun!) Enjoy!